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Unveiling the Truth: Hospice and End-of-Life Facts

Kris Green, MS, RN, serves as the chief hospice officer at Granite VNA.

Currently, there is a significant amount of discourse surrounding end-of-life alternatives that are prompting inquiries about hospice care. What exactly is hospice? When is it deemed suitable, and for whom?

Hospice essentially aims to assist individuals in the advanced stages of an incurable illness, along with their families, in attaining the highest possible quality of life once curative treatments are no longer viable. The focus in hospice shifts towards aiding patients in determining and expressing their most significant desires during their remaining time, offering symptom management, emotional support, and guidance to help them live as fully and comfortably as feasible.

Hospice represents a specialized approach to medical care that prioritizes quality of life over mere quantity. Patients under hospice care benefit from personalized attention provided by an interdisciplinary team comprising their primary care physician, specialized clinicians, and volunteers. This comprehensive care includes nursing support for symptom management and education, spiritual and emotional assistance, as well as companionship. Typically, hospice services are delivered at the patient’s place of residence, whether that be their own home, an assisted living facility, or a skilled nursing center. For those requiring more intensive care, there is the option of a dedicated hospice facility like the Granite VNA Hospice House.

Common misconceptions about hospice include the belief that it is exclusively for individuals with terminal cancer and that patients only enter hospice in the final moments of life. However, as defined by the Hospice Foundation of America, hospice care is intended for individuals with a life expectancy of six months or less, where curative treatments are no longer viable, and the focus shifts towards symptom management and enhancing quality of life.

Individuals with conditions such as end-stage kidney disease, heart ailments, lung disorders, advanced neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses can all potentially benefit from hospice care. While some patients may enroll in hospice mere days or weeks before passing away, others may choose to begin hospice care much earlier.

In February 2023, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter made headlines by announcing his decision to enter hospice care “to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention.” Fast forward to February 18, 2024, a year after President Carter’s hospice admission, his family released a statement expressing their contentment with his choice, stating that it has sparked numerous conversations on this crucial topic nationwide. In a different scenario, Carter’s wife, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, entered hospice only a few days before her passing at their family residence in Plains, Georgia in November 2023.

The Carter family’s experiences underscore the individualized nature of hospice care and the comprehensive support provided to patients and their families, a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of hospice — it extends to supporting the loved ones and caregivers throughout the end-of-life journey and beyond.

Patients frequently convey that opting for hospice care grants them a sense of control, while effective symptom management contributes to their peace of mind. For instance, a recent patient at Hospice House continued advocating for a cause he was passionate about by contacting colleagues daily. The care and support he received in hospice enabled him to concentrate on cherishing quality moments with family and friends. These anecdotes encapsulate the fundamental objectives of hospice care.

It is encouraged for individuals to delve deeper into understanding hospice through reputable organizations like the Hospice Foundation of America, the Home Care, Hospice and Palliative Care Alliance of New Hampshire, and by participating in local seminars on end-of-life discussions and planning.

Choosing hospice care does not equate to relinquishing hope. Opting for hospice signifies choosing to live fully, with dignity and respect, during the remaining time. Hospice offers individuals the necessary care and support in a familiar environment, enabling them to relish quality time with loved ones in tranquility and comfort.